TOMMY GEMMELL revealed his club and country secrets to friend and author Alex Gordon in his best-selling autobiography, ‘All The Best,’ published by CQN in 2014.
In Part Eight of our EXCLUSIVE series, the Celtic legend names some of the top players he shared games with while on Scotland duty.
The Hoops legend, who sadly passed away at the age of 73 on March 2 2017, tells why he opted for club team-mate Billy McNeill ahead of a Rangers counterpart.
Here is an edited extract from that chapter.
I PLAYED twelve games alongside Rangers’ Ronnie McKinnon as the man in charge of Scotland’s No.5 shirt. Billy McNeill and I were international team-mates on a mere four occasions.
So, I realise I am about to be accused of being biased towards my old Celtic mate, but I have to pencil him in ahead of his Old Firm rival. Billy and Ronnie both had different strengths.
The Ibrox man, for a start, was a lot quicker across the ground than Billy. I think Ronnie was helped by the fact that he had started his senior career as an old-fashioned wing-half at Rangers. I believe he also played at centre-forward in the juveniles before stepping up.
Undoubtedly, that would have helped him be a lot more mobile on the deck than his Parkhead counterpart. Billy had plenty of pluses, but I have to admit pace was not among them.
BALL PLAYER…Jim Baxter in playful mood with Billy McNeill after an Old Firm game in 1963.
Yet, look at his prowess in the air. He was awesome. Of course, being around the 6ft 2in mark would have helped, but his timing was also immaculate. I’ve seen wee guys outjumping blokes about six inches taller just because their judgement is faultless.
Look at Dixie Deans, at Celtic, for instance. Dixie was no skyscraper – I think he was about 5ft 7in – but he must have put the fear of God into taller opponents simply by his reading of the play and his ability to time things perfectly.
Denis Law was no giant, but take a look at the goals he scored with his head. Take a trip back in time and watched footage of the incomparable Pele and the West German Gerd Muller. Neither would get snow in their hair when they were grounded, but they knew how and when to attack the ball when it was in the air.
But I doubt if any of those blokes would have got much change out of Billy in aerial duels. There can be no argument that Billy was more masterful than Ronnie when the high balls were dropping into the penalty box. I like my centre-backs to be commanding in that crucial area.
If you wanted a ball-playing left-half performing alongside Big Billy, you must go for Jim Baxter. The Rangers idol wasn’t a great defender, but don’t believe all you may have read or heard that he was lazy.
PICK IT OUT…Billy McNeill celebrates after thumping a shot past Rangers keeper Billy Ritchie in Celtic’s 4-0 win at Ibrox in 1966.
That is a myth. He made the forward passes from opponents look predictable such was his anticipation. He was rarely put in a position where he had to fly into tackles. His ability on the ball was breathtaking.
He was so nonchalant the way he used to flit across a football pitch. ‘Just gie the ba’ tae The Glove,’ he would shout in that unmistakeable Fife accent.
The Glove, by the way, was his name for his left foot. And after the leather sphere did, in fact, drop at that magical set of twinkling toes then you knew in an instant the opposition were in trouble.
He could thread that ball through the best organised of defences. I couldn’t possibly leave Slim Jim out of this team.
Caesar and Slim Jim – what a double-act.
TOMORROW: Don’t miss Part Nine of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE international revelations from the legendary Celt.